With winterâ€™s weather bearing down in earnest hearty meals are de reguer and I canâ€™t think of a better meal to make than a cassoulet. It is my very favorite winter meal bar none!
Cassoulet is a classic French white bean stew with an assortment of herbs, meats, and poultry all baked together in an earthenware pot. It is undeniably delicious and the perfect antidote for winterâ€™s bitter chill.
That said, making a classic Langeuuedoc white bean cassoulet requires copious amounts of assorted meats, sausage, duck confite and fat along with a considerable investment of time and expense.
Deconstructing the concept however, as radical as that may seem, can produce an as hearty and flavorsome cassoulet with all the allure of the original sans excess fats and expense.
In the recipe that follows I have included a modest amounts of pancetta and sausage, but they may be omitted without sacrificing flavor. It really is all about the quality of the beans, vegetables, and seasonings that brings this cassoulet to life with or without including meats.
Be sure to source your dried beans for freshness and quality. My favorite supplier is Rancho Gordo in California at ranchogordo.com (click here). All of their dried beans are top quality. Supplies do vary so itâ€™s a good idea to subscribe to receive harvest updates and availability.
A simplified Winter Cassoulet
For the beans:
- 1 pound dried white tabais, canellini, or great northern white beans
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 thin slices pancetta, finely diced (or substitute 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, added later)
- 3/4Â cup diced onions
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- Â¾ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- Â½ teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves, crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon sea salt plus more as needed after the beans are cooked
- Â½ teaspoon ground white pepper
- 3 quarts stock or water, plus more as needed
Pick through the beans and rinse well. Place them in bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside to soak for several hours or overnight. Then drain the beans and set side.
Add the olive oil to a stock pot set over medium low heat. When the oil is hot add the pancetta and saute until fragrant and just beginning to color. If you are omitting the pancetta, add the smoked paprika along with onions and saute until wilted. Then add the garlic and saute until softened. Add the thyme, rosemary, sage, and bay leaf and saute until well combined and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Stir in the drained soaked beans and promptly add the hot stock or water. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook the beans until they are softened but still holding their shape. Cooking times will vary depending on the age of the beans, but generally about 1 Â½ or 2 hours should do it. Taste the beans and add salt to taste and set aside.
While the beans are cooking you can go ahead and prepare the sausage if using as well as the radish leaves or kale.
For the sausage:
- 1 pound Polish or Kielbasa sausage
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Â½ cup dry white wine
Heat the oil in a skillet and when hot add the whole sausage and seer on all sides until nicely browned. Then add the wine and cook until the wine has mostly evaporated. Remove the sausages and slice on the diagonal into 1 Â½ inch pieces and set aside.Â
Add a little stock to theÂ skillet and swirl to gather up the juices and scrape them into the pot of cooked beans and stir well.
For the Greens:
- 2 large bunches of radish leaves or kale, well rinsed and chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- sea salt to taste
Note: If you are not using sausageÂ you may want to use both radish and kale leaves seasoned with 1 teaspoon of crushed marjoram leaves and Â¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. when hot add the chopped greens and saute just until wilted. Season with salt and set aside.
For the topping:
- 1 cup bread crumbs, or panko
- 2 tablespoons finely sliced flat leafed parsleyÂ
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/2 sea saltÂ
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
Toss the breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, and salt together. Drizzle with olive oil, toss, and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 300 F /150 c with the oven rack set in the middle position. Place a baking sheet on the bottom rack to catch any overflow while the cassoulet is baking.
Assembling the cassoulet:
Select a large earthenware casserole dish. Using a ladle add a layer of drained cooked beans in the bottom of the casserole dish. Layer some sausage pieces ( If using) over the beans, and add a layer of the sauteed greens. Continue to layer the ingredients in the same order, ending with a layer beans with a few pieces of sausageÂ (if using) for the top layer.
Spread the crumb topping evenly over the casassoulet. This will form a nice crusty topping to the finished cassoulet.
Run a spatula round the casserole to create a crevasse. Then spoon some bean cooking liquid into the crevasse all the way around the casserole dish. Giggle the dish several times while continuing to add more liquid until the liquid has nearly reached the rim of the dish. This will ensure an evenly moist cassoulet when fully baked.
Bake for 2 hours, turning the casserole dish from front to back after the first hour to ensure even baking.
Should the crumb topping brown to quickly during baking cover the casserole loosely with foil.
Remove the cassoulet from the oven and set aside for 15 minutes before serving,
Placing the hot cassoulet in the center of the table is sight to behold as the aroma beckons! Let everyone serve themselves family style.
Serving a simple wintery greens salad including some mustard greens, Belgian endive, and a baby arugula leaves completes this meal beautifully.
You might also like to try A Summer Casssoulet (click here for recipe)